Women now outnumber men in the New York Philharmonic, for the first time ever

24 November 2022, 17:56

New York Philharmonic
New York Philharmonic. Picture: Alamy

By Kyle Macdonald

One of America’s most historic ensembles sees a big demographic shift as symphonic music changes with the times.

Women in the ranks of New York’s most famous orchestra now outnumber men 45 to 44, for the first time in its 180-year history.

The news was reported on Tuesday in what the New York Times termed a “sea change”, noting that when the New York Philmarmonic’s Lincoln Centre home was built in 1962, there were no women’s dressing rooms.

In 1922, a 26-year-old harpist Stephanie Goldner became the first woman to join the Philharmonic, and for 10 years was the only woman in the ensemble.

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Over 40 years later, in 1966 double bassist Orin O’Brien joined the orchestra, and over the coming decades, the male dominance very slowly shifted.

Although true equality in the orchestra’s ranks has been a long time coming, it’s worth noting the Philharmonic plays a role in the stories of many pioneering female musicians. Violinist Maud Powell, composers Amy Beach and Cécile Chaminade and contralto Marian Anderson all made important breakthroughs in the late 19th and early 20th century.

This week’s news was met with praise in the classical music community. “This is a HUGE moment for female musicians,” said Maestra, a campaign group for women in music and music theatre industries.

It’s also a time of change in other ways for the orchestra. The New York Philharmonic has recently opened the doors to an extensively renovated concert hall home. Sporting a new name, the David Geffen Hall sees a completely remodelled space, with what are promised to be immensely improved acoustics.